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The Most Notorious Prisons in the U.S.

Changes in the late 1970s and 1980s caused the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. to skyrocket, leading to the development of many new prisons and the overcrowding of older facilities. The resulting surge in the sheer number of prisoners resulted in poor conditions in most prisons, but some of them were less than humane long before the days of overcrowding and under funding. These four prisons are all notorious for their treatment of the inmates they house, or at least who they’ve housed before.

United States Penitentiary Atlanta

In the heart of downtown Atlanta stands an opposing gray block building that is famous for housing new and transfer inmates in some of the smallest cells in the country. Prisoners are held for up to a few months at a time in an isolation cell that is barely 56 square feet. There’s no need to act up to land in solitary confinement, and the poor conditions caused Cuban prisoners to riot so fiercely in 1987 that they set fire to the building and hospitalized dozens of guards.

Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola)

The abuse carried on in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, is so severe that it’s been the subject of multiple documentaries and dozens of Department of Justice investigations. It’s the largest maximum security prison and employs over 2,000 guards just to watch 5,000 prisoners. It’s best known for housing the Angola 3, three men who spent up to 29 years in solitary confinement each and who were eventually released after decades of fighting for their freedom.

Sing Sing Correctional Facility

New York’s Sing Sing Prison is rife with violence and other unsavory behavior, but it’s best known for housing some of the most deranged criminals in the country. Nearly a third of the population has at least one murder charge on their record. It was one of the first prisons to generate a profit for the state operating it, a factor many believe lead to the expansion of laws designed to incarcerate millions. Before the state outlawed capital punishment, 614 people were executed by electric chair in the facility.

Julia Tutwiler Prison

This is the only women’s prison on the list, but it deserves its place for the sheer volume of reports of guard on prisoner abuse. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by former and current female inmates at this Alabama facility who were raped or molested by the guards, and many more have passed multiple pregnancies and given birth to children fathered by the guards. Women who fight back or reject the advances of their jailers report being beaten or locked in solitary confinement.

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Notorious, Prison, U.S.